Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez team to lower credit card interest rates

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 2020 presidential contender, and freshman New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are teaming up for their first major joint push in Congress.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a 2020 presidential contender, and freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York are teaming up for their first major joint push in Congress.

The pair unveiled legislation Thursday that would cap credit card interest rates at 15%, according to information provided by Sanders’ office.

Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most popular figures on the Democratic left, are using the new bill to address an issue that many closely identify with another presidential candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Ocasio-Cortez has not endorsed any primary candidate and has indicated she could wait until New York votes next year before making a decision.

Speaking to CNN on Thursday, she named Sanders and Warren as two potential picks.

“I would like to see in a presidential candidate is one that has a coherent worldview and logic from which all these policy proposals are coming forward,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN. “I think Sen. Sanders has that. I also think Sen. Warren has that. I also want to see us centering working people in the United States to stem income inequality (and) tackle climate change.”

Asked if she would consider former Vice President Joe Biden, Ocasio-Cortez said, “I’m not sure,” adding with a laugh, “Now it’s getting a little nuts.”

Shortly after her upset congressional primary win last year, Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders campaigned together for other progressive hopefuls ahead of the midterm elections. She also appeared at a climate change panel hosted by Sanders late last year. They have maintained a close relationship since she entered Congress.

The pair livestreamed their conversation about the proposal, during which they railed against banks for profiting off low-income people who may have to turn to credit cards or payday lenders when they need money for emergencies.

“You have Wall Street and credit card companies charging people outrageously high interest rates when they are desperate and need money to survive,” Sanders said.

Their new bill, called the Loan Shark Prevention Act, would cap the interest rate on both credit cards and consumer loans, while giving the Federal Reserve authority to temporarily allow a rate increase if the “safety and soundness” of a lender is threatened. It’s similar to how existing legislation regulates loans made by credit unions. It would also allow states to set lower caps.

Currently, the average credit card interest rate is 17.7%, according to CreditCards.com. Americans with poor credit scores tend to be offered higher interest rates. Maximum rates tend to be well over 20%.

“You’ve got payday lenders over here, which is beyond belief — that is just disgraceful beyond imagination,” Sanders said.

The Vermont independent also turned his focus to the credit card lenders: “You got all these (bankers) in their three-piece suits, who are now the new loan shark hoodlums that we used to see in the movies.”

In an email after their livestream ended, the Sanders campaign asked supporters for their signatures — to become “citizen cosponsors” of the bill.

“You’re not going to see Jamie Dimon — the CEO of JPMorgan Chase — lurking in a dark alley. He doesn’t need to,” Sanders wrote in the email. “Thanks to sky high fees, usurious interest rates and plain Wall Street greed he’s now worth $1.4 billion.”

Ocasio-Cortez also took aim at the big banks and the fees and charges assessed to customers whose account balances fall below a certain minimum.

“It is expensive to be poor,” she said. “I think that what makes us so radical, as people like to call our ideas, so radical is that we think that some things are just wrong to make a buck off of and it’s wrong to make a buck off of people’s most vulnerable moments.”

The rollout of the bill comes as Biden’s new campaign has begun to reshape the Democratic field. The former vice president has been criticized over the years — most notably by Warren — over his relationship with the credit card industry.

Warren, who has seen a recent bump in support, cosponsored a bill in April that would allow states to put caps on credit card interest rates for their residents.

Ocasio-Cortez has also been a leading congressional supporter of the Green New Deal, an ambitious and expensive plan to fundamentally remake the American economy around a blueprint to move the country to clean, renewable energy over the next decade.

She teamed with Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who has already endorsed Warren, to introduce a Green New Deal resolution earlier this year. Sanders, Warren and other leading Democrats have endorsed the plan.

Next week, Ocasio-Cortez will — alongside Markey and other activists, including the Sunrise Movement — headline an event at Howard University in Washington to kick off what Sunrise is calling “a nationwide campaign to make the 2020 election a referendum on the Green New Deal.”

The credit card interest rate cap is likely to face strong resistance from the banking industry and has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate.

But Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez repeatedly argued that it’s not a radical plan.

“I’m just glad we’ve had the opportunity to push the needle forward,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

“What I love about big and ambitious ideas, whether it’s this or the Green New Deal, is that it forces the Republicans to change their agenda, too,” she added.

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